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Sportsmen defend National Fuel deal as residents protest

PENDLETON – As a crowd of at least 300 people jammed the Wendelville Fire Company hall Wednesday night to continue opposition to the National Fuel pipeline and compressor, the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club defended its decision to provide a site for the compressor.

National Fuel’s subsidiary, Empire Pipeline, signed a purchase option with the club last week, giving it until Jan. 1, 2017, to buy 20 acres at the western edge of the club’s Killian Road property to build a 22,000-horsepower compressor to push natural gas through its pipeline. Fears of health impacts and a possible explosion have driven opposition to the project.

In an email to The Buffalo News, David F. Notaro, president of the sportsmen’s club board, said the club made the best deal for the community that it could.

“The Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club and its board of directors, being a part of Pendleton, share the concerns of the rest of its community. We have gone to the best extent possible to perform our due diligence before making this decision, including several meetings with National Fuel and a tour of a similar station. Throughout the meetings, it became clear that one way or another, due to zoning and the location of their existing pipeline, this compressor was going to be built on one of two sites on Killian Road. Once the board knew that to be clear, we felt the best thing we could do for the community was put as many restrictions on as many of the items that the community objected to as we could. We did that to the best of our ability,” Notaro wrote.

Notaro confirmed Wednesday that the sale price of the option, which he would not disclose, would be enough to pay off the club’s debts to a bank and to its own members. Kim Lemieux, a member of the anti-pipeline Pendleton Action Team, made that statement to the Wendelville crowd Wednesday, reading from what she said was a sportsmen’s club memo to its members.

Notaro wouldn’t say how big the debt is. There would be a second payment once the land is actually sold, which Notaro said would be enough to buy more land, increasing the club’s holdings from 282 acres to 400 acres.

The site in western Pendleton, a little more than a half-mile from the Wheatfield border, was chosen after heavy public opposition to a previous site on Aiken Road near Beach Ridge Road. But the change of location didn’t change public opinion as voiced at Wendelville, where one speaker said of the club, “Shame on them.”

Lemieux said the Action Team picketed the sportsmen’s club Wednesday and has scheduled more picketing.

The compressor is to be built on 5 to 8 acres near the center of the 20-acre parcel, and the lease bars any development on any other part of the 20 acres, in effect creating a buffer zone.

The final decision on the project lies with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington. But Shannon Patch, western regional director for Sen. Charles Schumer, told the crowd that based on past projects, FERC would require town approval before it will allow National Fuel to file an amendment changing the compressor site..